Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Since Kozol and My Reading Shelf

Since Kozol’s last Tuesday, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about his lecture and my experience in Wellesley. I have also found out that some people close to me are reading his books as well. One should use life well, he said.

Well in the last week I used my life in the following manner: reading, writing (one story has characters inspired by Kozol’s work), cleaning, exercise and braving the dreary, endless rain to hit the Boston streets. Did I mention thinking? Because all of the ways I mentioned to use my life are also just the kind of things that let ideas and feelings incubate and blossom from time to time. More on those interior journeys later, perhaps.

In the meantime, here is an update on my Reading Shelf.

I am struggling, sadly, with Saul Bellow’s Augie March. I finally resorted to commentary on the book in order to justify my labor between the pages. Of course, the experts say it is genius. It is a good read, but dense, dense, dense with precise—utterly beautiful—realistic detail. Well done, but I slog through nonetheless. I don’t like to slog, especially when so many other delicious books are out there. So, I did renew the book on the library’s online service to have one more go at it. If you have read it, please encourage me.

You might wonder why on earth I chose Bellow’s novel to battle with. In a way I did and did not choose it. When I choose new books to read, I rely on a combination of word-of-mouth, allusions that drive me mad, reviews, overhead conversations, impassioned accounts, and random shiny covers. In addition to these methods, I also decided to attack the Indiana recommended reading list for high school students. I came across this list in teacher training and was appalled at the sheer number of unfamiliar titles. I decided that if I teach in Indiana, I should read the books that are suggested for my students. Augie March was second on the list, I think.

The truth is that many of these books are not taught in classrooms, for various reasons. And I have no idea who develops or if they even update the list. But it is a good touchstone.

I also finished another book on the list this past week. The Abduction by Mette Newth is a strangely sparse prose style with lots of exclamation marks! But it does have compelling characters and a sophisticated theme, the clash of ancient and modern people! Two characters are abducted from their native culture and held hostage, as animals, by Europeans. It is an interesting way to get at slavery, oppression, and cultural dominance without using the case of African slaves in the Americas. A strange little tale, a quick read.

Another book that I just finished, which I thought was on the list, is Snow In August by Pete Hamill. As it turns out, this book is not on the list at all and I have no recollection of why I decided it was a must read! That is a bit scary. At any rate, I am perfectly happy to read it. I am nearly 2/3rds finished with this post World War II story of an Irish-American Catholic alter boy in Brooklyn and his friendship with a Czech Rabbi. This is a delightful story written in a clean prose style and packed with allusions to Poe and Jack London. Baseball aficionados, especially of the Dodgers, might salivate. I would almost rather teach this than The Chosen, but Snow in August is a bit long, but not too long. It tackles a boy’s coming-of-age, a father lost in the war, immigrants, the Holocaust, Jewish culture, anti-Semitism and racism. Jackie Robinson’s emergence into the major leagues almost makes him a major character in the narrative. We’ll see how it ends.

Next on the recommended reading list: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines. I am quite familiar with Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying and look forward to reading another one of his works.

Now, not on the list, but sweetly devoured: The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich. You might remember that I blogged about another one of her books, The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, a while ago. The Painted Drum is her most recent book and I had been on the waiting list at the Boston Public Library for quite some time for this little jewel. Unlike the other novels I have read by her, this story is quite compact—less than three hundred pages with large font! But it is amazing. Please read it. I tried to look through it for some memorable lines, but I simply couldn’t separate out any discrete lines without including a huge chunk of text. The language and images appear simple, but they build and fit together in poetic ways.

I am also reading the current Harper’s magazine (with fiction by Margaret Atwood), Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver and the Boston Globe (daily newspaper). And of course, as many short stories as I can uptake without stuffing my brain with too much noise.

Amy Tan is reading from her new book, Saving Fish From Drowning, at the public library this Thursday. I am still number 20 on the waiting list for her book, so I probably won’t have a copy read before her talk. I will probably go anyway. Check her out. Check out the scene, perhaps. Or should we go to the theater? Can I just say, I am so pro-choice.

In the meantime, send me your reading suggestions!


Sapere Aude said...

I had the opportunity to listen to Kozol speak this morning in Philadelphia about his new book, the shame of the nation. I plan on posting my notes from it soon. I really liked your entry, I noticed that we both like many of the same books. Have a great day!

Tara said...

Thanks for the reading tips...like I need to add to my list?? lol
Here's my suggestion for a great and fairly quick read: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. It's phenomenal.
T :)
PS I'm choosing "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire for book club (I have the next pick I think)